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Moving Insurance and Some Lessons Learned from Our Most Recent Rodeo

Francis H Morrison

Summary

  • During a "retirement move" the condo wasn't ready on time causing their belongings to be stored which unfortunately damaged some pieces of furniture.
  • Even though they had moving insurance, the process to file a claim was painstakingly meticulous to include photos and receipts then there were disputes over the value of the furniture (depreciated value or repaired value).
  • Get lessons learned and strategies to minimize risks associated with moving insurance.
Moving Insurance and Some Lessons Learned from Our Most Recent Rodeo
istockphoto.com/Yuri Arcurs Productions

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In late July 2019, we made our “retirement move” from Connecticut to North Carolina. We weren’t novices, having made moves occasioned by military service, law school, and three within the confines of our Connecticut communities. Those moves had gone very well—they resulted in not a single claim of damage to our prized possessions! We attribute that largely to avoiding having our goods placed in storage as part of those moves. We also used reputable packers and carriers. And, on the interstate moves, we accepted or paid for insurance made available by the carriers.

During our 2019 move, we expected to avoid our goods being stored and that our possessions would go directly from our Connecticut home to our new home in North Carolina. That is, they would not be unloaded, stored, reloaded, and finally delivered at our new home. We contracted, as we had in past moves, with a nationally recognized company that came well recommended by friends who had just completed an interstate move of their own. As we had done in earlier interstate moves, we paid the mover for insurance on our goods. And, we prepared a written designation for the driver listing our “high value” items. The folks who packed us up were great and the driver made us feel that our goods were safe with him—he even gave us his cell number for the trip and kept us advised of his progress down the east coast!

The Best Laid Plans Can Go for Naught.

The mover’s cost estimate ($12,000), their arrival to pack up, and their on-schedule arrival with our personal goods in North Carolina all went off without a hitch. Our stuff was ready for delivery to our brand-new condo during the last week of July. But, on our drive through western North Carolina, our developer called and advised that his promise (the latest of many broken delivery promises) that our condo would be ready for closing and occupancy that week was inoperative.

Because we had relied on his written promise (we would have delayed our move out of our Connecticut condo had we known that closing and move-in would be delayed), he grudgingly agreed to pay the storage charges for local storage—a North Carolina moving warehouse affiliated with the national mover—which ultimately amounted to $7,000. And we stayed with family for two weeks and didn’t make any claim for that. The frustrating and chaotic events of those two weeks of delay also included an aborted closing because the developer couldn’t produce a certificate of occupancy at closing!

The Ravages of Furniture Storage in Heat and Humidity.

Our move into and out of local storage and inadequate packing which assumed condo to condo moving in the space of 4-5 days became more than 14 days. Two moves became four with exposure of our goods to extended heat and humidity in an un-air-conditioned space. The extra moves and heat and humidity savaged our personal effects. Two examples included: (1) my wife’s favorite upholstered fabric chair suffered a two-foot laceration through the fabric on its back; and (2) a number of pieces of vintage Hitchcock furniture packed in bubble wrap resulted in wood surfaces scored with tattoos resembling the application of a hot waffle iron to them. There was damage to a dining room table we bought before leaving Connecticut and a number of pieces that suffered serious, visible gauges and scratches. Unbelievably, the high value items on our list were largely undamaged.

The Hard Work of Making an Insurance Claim.

Frustration doesn’t begin to describe the mover’s insurance claim process. We spent more hours than I like to recall painstakingly documenting the damage including: photographic evidence of the damage to each piece, the provenance of the piece, evidence of purchase price (some of it more than fifty years old), and some eBay evidence of recent sales of similar pieces. The months-long process featured fits and starts, some apparent rope-a-dope when we had to provide serial explanations of the records we had amassed to a new person each time the company’s phone magically got answered (not counting the unanswered voice mails and emails). The damage to some of our children’s cherished toys was met with what can be charitably called disdain. And, there were repeated disclaimers to the effect that “while we are sympathetic for your emotional loss and hurt feelings, unfortunately we cannot figure that into what we can pay you.”

At one point I thought that we were being treated to a new version of “Catch-22.” The insurer’s position was that if the customer had evidence of the cost of a piece of furniture or another good, it would pay only the depreciated cost of the item (which was far short of any replacement value), and on further condition that if the item had a value below a set amount it would not be repaired, but that it would be purchased by the insurer to be surrendered to the insurer’s agent on payment. They generally declined to pay the replacement cost of an item, or the cost to refurbish an item if that item exceeded its purchase cost.

After some exchanges that included the words “bad faith” and “unfair trade practice,” the insurer agreed to hire a local furniture restorer, a minority/women owned business in the local area, to inspect our claimed damage on its behalf. The restorer came to our home, spent nearly an entire day examining our damaged items and assessing the cost of repair. The restorer was professional, practical, and empathetic. The result of the restorer’s work generated a sum that nearly equaled the $12,000 we paid for the move. The insurer, a captive business of the mover, responded by disavowing the work of its chosen restorer, obviously because it didn’t like the result. More “bad faith” and “unfair trade practice” invective spewed forth.

“The Best Case Is a Settled Case.” Anon.

My wife and I decided that we had done enough damage to our sanity and put together a proposed resolution. As a starting point, we accepted in our own minds that we were not going to recover more than we paid for the move without doing a full arbitration. We suggested the following: (1) we would pick out the restorer’s repair values for the items we really cared about which totaled approximately $9,600; (2) we would provide the mover a release in exchange for a payment of the $9,600 settlement, on condition that it waive its contract condition that it could take possession of the unrepaired items in exchange for their value; (3) that it agreed we could hire the restorer to repair items of our choice; and finally (4) we demanded the insurer agree that we could allocate the settlement dollars among the damaged items, or not, as we chose and that we did not have to spend the entire $9,600 on restoration. The mover accepted the terms through its insurer. And, the restorer repaired the pieces of our choice, allocating some of the settlement dollars among some damaged items and not among others, in accordance with our preference.

All that left the blue upholstered chair and ottoman, on some days dearer to my wife than our first-born, which had been badly damaged in its backside. The matching ottoman had not been damaged. Repairing the chair would have required reupholstering both pieces, which led to a dispute about whether the set was one or two items. And the upholstery material was out of production. So, we placed the chair in a very nice reading nook in our bedroom and allocated its notional settlement dollars to other items!

“A Few Lessons for Moving Insurance.”

Our lessons include:

  • Storage should be avoided if at all possible;
  • Pack like your goods could be subjected to storage;
  • Don’t buy new stuff to be moved to your new destination;
  • Agree with the mover ahead of time on a list of “high value” items;
  • Do all you can in writing to preserve a reliance claim caused by our delay; and
  • Pay for insurance and read the policy carefully.

At the end of the day, we agreed with the restorer to fix the pieces that were fixable and that we wanted to keep. Because the insurer agreed that we could allocate the settlement dollars as we wished, the result was that we paid the restorer less than the total settlement and kept the difference. Items that for one reason or another were not repairable (like the blue upholstered chair) we kept and put to our own use unrepaired. Necessity, as they say, was the mother of invention.

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